04/27/07 - tammany hall

In today's excerpt - the blatant corruption of New York City's Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall shows how difficult the path of democracy was for the young United States:

"William Marcy Tweed, born on Cherry Street in 1823 ... set to remake the city in his own image. He abolished the Board of Aldermen and the State Commissions, drew up his own charter, and implemented it in 1870, its statutes placing the bulk of municipal power in the hands of a special Board of Auditors - made up of Tweed, [Mayor Oakey] Hall and [Tammany Committeeman Richard] Connolly. The corruption of the Tweed regime extended from top to bottom, and penetrated every corner of the city's structure. Small-time crooks suddenly became untouchable, and often found themselves with governmental sinecures. A mayhem artist and gambler named Tim Donovan became a deputy clerk at Fulton Market; the comedian 'Oofty Goofty' Phillips was made clerk to the Water Register; the crook Jim 'Maneater' Cusick became a court clerk. Under Tweed, the city spent $10,000 on $75 worth of pencils, $171,000 for $4,000 in tables and chairs and squandered some $12 million on the infamous courthouse behind City Hall, including $1,826,000 for a $50,000 plastering job, $7 million for furniture and decorations, and roughly $3,500,000 for alleged repairs in the first thirty-one months after the building's completion. Tweed invested in judges, who sold receiverships, court orders, and writs of habeas corpus on the open market. ... One of them, Albert Cardozo, once held two women there incommunicado for seventeen days for reasons that were never disclosed, and in a period of about three years released more than two hundred clients of [defense super-attorneys] Howe and Hummel, in exchange for financial considerations. Tweed all but bought newspapers as well: the World was his organ in the days before its purchase by Joseph Pulitzer; one of the three directors of the Times was his business partner; at one point, he was paying the Post $50,000 a month. ...

"Electoral manipulation had become a joke. There was even a vaudeville routine: 'Come off it', said the election official. 'You ain't Bishop Doane.' 'The hell I ain't, you son of a bitch,' replied the voter. When black voters tried to mark their ballots in the 1870 election, they found that all their names had already been voted by white repeaters."


Luc Sante


Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York


Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Copyright 1991 by Luc Sante


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